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As we’ve said before, we like the First Round Review. They consistently interview interesting leaders with perceptive views on managing teams.
Their latest piece is a consolidation of insights into ‘The 25 Micro-Habits of High-Impact Managers’. As you might imagine, with 25 habits to get through, the recommended reading time is 20 minutes...
If you have the time, you’ll almost certainly take lots away from the whole piece, but we wanted to pick out three areas we liked.
It’s often said that high performing teams are characterised by high levels of psychological safety, where teammates feel comfortable sharing ideas, asking for help, and challenging the status quo without fear of failure or penalty.
One way to help your team achieve this is by describing a time where you felt you failed and what you learned. You can’t expect your team members to be forthcoming if they don’t see this behaviour modelled by their manager.
“Share a story where you've failed personally or professionally and what you learned as a result. It sheds light that we're all human and on the same level. It allows team members to share their concerns and feel like it's okay to fail.” Trish Leung, Senior Director, Pantheon
First Round spoke to several managers who emphasised the importance of your team knowing they have your support, particularly if you’re asking them to reach for ambitious goals.
“Early on, my manager told me, ‘I don't want you to mess up. But if you mess up, I will have your back.’ This instilled in me that my manager trusted my decisions, was willing to help me through potential failure, and subtly applied pressure to live up to that trust. He said it once, but it was impactful enough that I still think about it when I face a new decision in my role.” Madeline Willett, Associate Director, Verto Education.
This, and other quotes in the piece, echo comments from our article earlier in the year on ‘What’s the best thing a manager has ever done for your career’. In that survey, the number one factor people valued was knowing that their manager believed in them.
This is something we don’t do often enough.
When someone on your team does something excellent, don’t just tell them. Make sure you tell other people. Tell your boss. Tell their peers. It will do wonders for their professional reputation, it will make it more likely opportunities come their way in future, and the recognition can be a wonderful motivator.
“Every weekly meeting with his direct reports, my manager has us each share some amazing things that members of our groups have accomplished recently. These team members could be four-plus levels removed from my manager. My manager then sends a short, but extremely impactful email to all the folks that got mentioned recognizing their accomplishments. It's often a surprise to folks that someone many levels removed has that level of visibility into their work and is aware of their contributions.” Edwin Chau, Engineering Director, Brex
Last week, millions of people received this email.
Well, we soon got an explanation.
First, it is obviously good that the company acknowledges everyone makes mistakes and is supporting the employee.
This part spawned a whole heap of ‘Dear Intern’ stories on twitter where others shared the mistakes they’d made at work. Some were heartwarming and empathetic.
Others were also amusing.
But while we hate to spoil the party, despite their lighthearted approach, HBO still only got this half right.
When junior staff make a prominent mistake, it’s almost always not theirs to carry alone. In this instance, the fact the email got sent was likely a failure of process or oversight by others in the team.
As managers, beyond supporting those who make mistakes, when we discuss failure (see our first story this week), we need to recognise the collective responsibility that led to it. Particularly when it involves junior staff, who were likely delegated a task and/or offered insufficient support. Even if you do it nicely, it’s still unfair to say ‘it was the intern’.
Then again, everyone on twitter was talking about HBO Max for 24hrs. So if you’re having a slow revenue quarter, maybe you should just blame the intern.
How would you feel if your boss set this as their e-mail footer?
It belongs to a Vice President at Amazon Web Services, who posted it publicly last week.
Now regardless of whether you’d use her language, we think the intent behind it is very creditable. She’s trying to set more considerate communication guidelines for those she interacts with, which is something that’s done far too little.
On many teams norms of communication evolve informally, and badly. They typically bias towards speed of response. For some work (e.g. customer service) that’s a real asset. For other patterns of work which don’t require speedy replies, the pressure to respond just interrupts more valuable tasks, and places unnecessary stress on recipients to scramble to reply.
If you haven’t yet thought about how your team communicates and the pressures it causes, now might be a good time to do so. There may be opportunities to reduce stress and promote work/life balance by putting in processes around the urgency of messages, what needs replying-to when, and what the cultural expectations are for replying out-of-hours.
Returning to the AWS example, the eagle-eyed among you might have spotted the contradiction in the language this VP used. She claims that the ‘relentless’ pace of work is ‘digitally-enabled’, yet is using a very human solution to slow it down.
In reality the pace of work is driven by people and culture, which you may be able to influence more than you think.
You might have seen the recent Wired magazine article with this title:
The article hangs off research by Alex Pang, a consultant and author on rest and productivity. He claims that:
“Research indicates that five hours is about the maximum that most of us can concentrate hard on something. There are periods when you can push past that, but the reality is that most of us have about that good work time in us every day.”
The article goes on to explore various organisations which have taken these findings and used them to experiment with five hour work days. But that’s not the main thing we took from Pang’s research.
If he’s right, perhaps we as managers should be wary of doing the following: